What It’s Really Like Dating With Mental Illness
I’m sitting on my kitchen floor and the room is cold, the floor is cold. My boyfriend is right downstairs, but feels lightyears away. Why am I rocking back and forth? Why can’t I communicate my feelings? Why am I so terrified of civilized confrontation? Why?
For me, relationships are especially challenging. My generalized anxiety disorder is notorious for turning me into a passive people-pleaser. I know how to assert myself and voice my opinions, but I repeatedly fail to do so. I’m afraid of my partner's response... another symptom of my anxiety, I suppose.
Earlier today, an argument transpired. My boyfriend did something that upset me – it wasn’t awful, but nevertheless, it hurt my feelings. I wanted to tell him, I wanted to talk about it. But I didn’t. Instead, I moped around my house feeling depressed all day, eating my feelings like a pint of ice cream.
Some time passed, and now my boyfriend is sitting on the upstairs couch beside me. I’m writing in silence, “Just say something, Megan, open your mouth, say anything,” my mind shouts over and over.
I’m afraid of causing conflict, even though I know a respectful disagreement isn’t going to derail the foundation our relationship is built upon. I’m working on setting boundaries and initiating communication in therapy. I’m trying, I really am.
Mental illnesses are individualized, affecting people differently. I happen to struggle with communication, whereas another person with anxiety might excel in that area.
Every day is a battle. Not only am I anxious, but I’m also diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and crippling agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia, for me, entails enduring panic attacks and feeling frightened when I leave my house. I dread the days when I have to go out, anywhere outside of my front door.
Mental Illness Isn’t Laziness
I’ve heard and been accused of a common misconception far too many times – that people with mental illness use their symptoms as an excuse for laziness. Mental illness drains my energy sometimes, but I’m not lazy.
If your partner suffers from any kind of mental illness, there might be days when she isn’t the energetic person you are familiar with. These are the days when she needs your love and support the most.
No, My Favorite Foods Won’t “Fix” Me
Many of my past partners didn’t take the time to research anorexia. Several paraded my favorite foods around me, which didn’t help. Eating disorders aren’t a result of appetite suppression. Seeing and smelling cheesecake doesn’t reverse my diagnosis. In fact, it makes my mental illness harder to cope with.
My dietitian gave my boyfriend some useful pointers: don’t praise her (well, me) when she meets her caloric goal for the day, don’t hound her on the days where she falls short, and always lend a compassionate ear when she opens up, discussing her poor body image and guilt associated with eating.
My boyfriend is very supportive of my eating disorder, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. There are other people in my life who just don’t understand.
For those of you who are reading this — if your significant other is fighting an eating disorder (and trust me, it’s a fight, a constant battle of the wills between our logical brain and our ‘eating disorder brain’) you should consider listening to the wise words of my dietitian.
Nudge, Don’t Shove
We aren’t baby birds that can be thrown out of a nest, so please don’t expect us to flap our wings and fly. I refrain from leaving my house a lot of the time, allowing my agoraphobia to control my life.
Three years of therapy greatly improved the symptoms of my phobia, however, the COVID-19 lockdown orders that are in place have caused regression.
When I’m in a relationship with someone who constantly pushes me past my limits, I regress. There are days when I am brave and more capable and there are days when I am not.
When I am intentionally housebound for weeks, gently nudge me, don’t shove. If that gentle nudge fails and I can’t leave my house in that moment, drop the issue and try again the following day.
With all mental illnesses, you should support your SO. On the days when she can’t lift herself up, you can be her anchor, uplifting her mood with jokes, expressions of love, and warm embraces. When she cries, you don’t need to speak the perfect words, just be there and hold her — love your girlfriend until she can fully love herself.